Connecting for Empathy

Education in Pakistan is riddled with multiple problems. The Pakistan National Education Policy (2009) recognizes that one of the biggest roadblocks to quality education provision is the practice of rote memorization, which ‘stops the mental growth of the child and blocks innovative learning’. The learning environment in schools is hardly empathetic, with textbooks and curricula promoting perspectives that encourage prejudice, discrimination, and incitement to militancy and violence (SDPI, The Subtle Subversion, 2003). Over 70% of teachers believe that corporal punishment is useful (Alif Ailan, The Voice of Teachers, 2014). The students are getting one message, loud and clear: they are on their own, and violence is a viable solution. Meanwhile, extracurricular and sports activities that could promote mutual respect, teamwork, and creativity are non-existent.

The Rabtt Way
Rabtt – which literally translates to ‘connect’ – is a social enterprise working to build a more empathetic society by developing and imparting a holistic education experience. By bringing on board volunteer-mentors, Rabbt’s programs focus on building four core competencies in students: Critical Thinking, Empathy, Creativity, and Self-Confidence.

The Summer Camp
Rabtt engages high-school students from public and low-cost private schools over the course of a year through summer camps in their own campuses. Volunteers are normally from a upper-to-middle social class with a background of private school education. The mingling of these two sets of individuals allows for communication and the exchange of ideas that otherwise does not often happen in Pakistan. These volunteers teach modules on Arts, World History, Dramatics, Thinking Skills, Public Speaking, Philosophy, English and Mathematics; most are subjects that the students have never been exposed to in school. The camp culminates in a Graduation ceremony where the students showcase all that they learnt over the summer, and is attended by students, parents, the school administration, and is open to the public. The 2015 Graduation Ceremony attracted an audience of over 1,000 people and various partner organisations.

I volunteered with Rabtt back in 2012, and over the years have formed deep friendships with the wonderful people involved. Teaching art to public school children who had never studied art before was one the most enriching and transformative experiences I’ve had. Since then, I have helped craft Rabtt’s art curriculum, designed elements of their branding, created a line of merchandise for fundraising, and reimagined how theory-intensive lessons can be communicated better with visuals. This work is close to my heart, and Rabtt continues to challenge and excite me about the possibilities design and art has to play in shaping a young mind’s curiosity and outlook on life.

Design Consultant
Shehzil Malik

Co-teachers for Art class 2012
Shaigan Bashir
Ahmed Junaid Nizami

Rabtt collaborators
Imran Server, Co-founder
Aneeq Cheema, Co-founder

Teaching Art

When I first spoke to the students of Government Pilot School For Boys, I was shocked to find that they never had art classes in school. Not only that, they all had a preconceived idea of what art is (i.e. being able to draw a pretty picture with a house and a mountain view) and also the assurity they had that they were not good at art. This revelation brought me back to my own art education both in school and university where our teachers would constantly challenge us by the question: What is art anyway?

For me, the aim for our art classes was set: to show the students that art is messy; art is no-holds-barred fun; art is anything you want it to be.

We made the art curriculum include brainstorming games, theory lessons on the history of art, introductions to pioneers like Picasso and Jackson Pollack, and then activities like working with clay, action paintings, puppets and games and my favourite: junk art sculptures. The students were also shown techniques like stop motion animation that they quickly understood, and we ended up making our very own animation!

As the classes neared their end, I found that the boys no longer hesitated in reaching for the material and diving into each new project. There were students who would stay back to help us clear up, or discuss new concepts they’ve come up with, or work on their own projects for a bit longer. They would call us over to their work and proudly show what they had made… such a change from how we had had begun!

Their willingness to learn and to understand was staggering, and is something I will never forget.

Branding the Graduation Ceremony

To generate interest in the closing ceremony, I was asked to design invites for print and social media.

The illustration is meant to encapsulate our experiences at the camp: working and playing together, painting and taking photographs, the field trips and the connections we made.

Merchandise for Fundraising

Rabtt has been steadily working on becoming self-sustaining, and has over the years worked on its business model to generate funds for their expanding activities. One such effort was to sell merchandise to raise both funds and awareness for their efforts.

I was asked to design a series of products, and we thought it would be more meaningful and fun for the students to create the design based on the artwork made during the summer camps. We photographed students’ paintings and collages and the resulting designs were printed on notebooks, t-shirts and mugs.

Visual Lesson Plans

My experience teaching at Rabtt made me realise the potential of introducing a more visual approach to the more dense, theoretically challenging classes like World History that were also taught at the summer camp.

An idea was formed for a visual lesson plan whereby visual aids and animation would be used alongside the lecture and discussion led by the volunteer-teacher.

Understanding the What’s, Why’s and How’s of Colonisation
Lesson plan by Anum Nawaz
As a pilot test, we chose a lesson on Colonisation, and decided to explain this complex subject with an analogy of two fictional and very dissimilar worlds called Khushal and Yarukk. The animation would show how one group decides to explore new worlds, and convinced that the people they come into contact with are their inferiors, impose their traditions and way of life on them.

Pakistan being a post-colonial country, students would be engaged in a discussion on such concepts as what happens when one group decides to expand to another territory and what examples they can think of from around the world. The idea is to give students an understanding of colonisation without a bias of either favouring or discarding those developments.

For me, it was important to use an animation technique that was quick to achieve, and could be replicated by another designer using their own style. Therefore quick sketches were made that build over time, allowing the instructor to narrate the events shown in the visuals.

It is always a pleasure working with the good folks at Rabtt because of their openness to new ideas and will to challenge the way these children are taught in public schools. Our next experiment this summer will be to introduce the students to the basics electronics and code by conducting a workshop where we show them the power of technology to bring their art to life. There are high hopes and much excitement!

You can find more about Rabtt on their website, and follow their updates on Facebook.